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Cruise control confession


I had to drive hundreds of miles recently. You will laugh, but my co-editor, knowing my shortcomings as a driver, helpfully suggested I use cruise control since I would be travelling on the open road. After learning the cruise button was to the left of the steering wheel and the control was on the wheel, I headed off into the American West.

After the first uncanny moments, when I felt I had an invisible driver underfoot, it was a dream. No doubt this is old hat to you, but with my foot free of the gas pedal, I could sit more comfortably, I wasn't constantly checking the dash to see how much faster than 70mph I was going and I wasn't pushing down on the accelerator to drive up the hills. In short, I was a far calmer cat.

Plus I invariably caught the cars that sped ahead of me. They moved fast, but they did not move consistently. After a few miles the reliable cruise just cruised past them.

A rough calculation suggests that cruise's consistent speed saved me 20% on my usual drive time. I didn't slow down when I spoke on the phone or talked to myself or changed the radio dial or pulled on my sunglasses or put on the wipers or drank Red Bull. I kept on cruising. So now, I want to give a small wave to the inventors -

The ingenious James Watt and Matthew Boulton invented speed control in 1788. "They used a centrifugal governor to control steam engines. The governor adjusts the throttle position as the speed of the engine changes with different loads" (WIKI).The technology was used in cars as early as 1910. Then in 1945, Ralph Teetor, a blind inventor frustrated by the way his lawyer speeded up and slowed down while talking, invented modern cruise control.

I like to think Cruise might have soothed that poor speedster so irritated by the young girl who had bunked down in the passing lane that he executed a wild swerve in front of a watching cop. We passed him as police lights burst into his rear view. Without Cruise, that could have been me.

Thanks to Joe Malchow for the image.

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